When you’ve hit a wall in your writing, one of the best ways to make progress is to take a walk.￼
Got the Blank Page Blues? Take a Walk. How Walking Boosts Creativity.
Whether you write short-form or long-form works, fiction or non-fiction, no writer is immune from the blank-page blues. We all hit a point when the ideas just don't come. It's almost as if the brain, at times, is like a silo, whose grain has depleted and needs to be refilled.
There are many ways to jump-start your creativity in situations like this. Naps are a great way to give the mind a rest and start afresh. Using writing prompts can help your brain make new connections. But one method of replenishing the brain has been used for centuries, and has been shown by science to help you be more creative: walking.
In this article, I'll explain why a walk - short or long - can be just what you need to move ahead when you hit the hurdle of the blank page.
Why activity is good for the brain
Any sort of physical activity increases your heart rate, and ups blood flow to the entire body, including the brain. Writers are generally static when working; that's the nature of the task. Getting up and moving around in any way can help increase blood flow. You may want to dance, run, or play tennis; all of these are effective ways to get more oxygen in the blood, and more blood to the brain and the rest of the body.
However, these more energetic activities may not be the best for writers who want a creativity boost. You can run a few miles or play a game of tennis, but that may tire you out, require that you take a shower, then you may want a snack, and by the time you're back at the computer, your energy may start flagging.
Walking, on the other hand, is a flexible form of exercise. You can saunter, stroll, tramp, or trek; you choose your speed and rhythm. You can walk for ten minutes or an hour. Any form of walking can help when you’re in a creative rut.
It's no secret that great thinkers have used walking to find inspiration. Aristotle would walk while giving lectures; Steve Jobs often held meetings with staff while walking; and Charles Darwin had his Sandwalk, which he would use to ponder his ideas. (You can even visit his house and see the path he used.)
There are plenty of scientific studies that show the benefits of walking. In Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking, the authors cite four experiments that show how walking boosts creativity. "Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity."
What type of walking is best?
There are many ways you can walk. You can walk on a treadmill, you can walk around the block where you live, you can visit woods or forests, or you can do various forms of slow walking. You are, of course, limited by where you live and your surroundings. Being outdoors has more benefits than walking indoors, and the combination of fresh air and walking gives you a double boost.￼ "While research indicates that being outdoors has many cognitive benefits, walking has a very specific benefit—the improvement of creativity." However, if you live in a polluted city, this might not be ideal. You should try to walk in a park or garden, if possible.
But if you can't always walk outdoors in a park or forest, or if the weather might prevent you from walking outside; you may have to settle for another form of walking. A treadmill is a great way to walk at home; you can choose different speeds depending on your mood. Some people find it stimulating to pace; to walk back and forth along a hall in their home to trigger ideas. The advantage of this is that you can pace for a few minutes, then go back to writing; this is ideal when you're trying to work out one small element in your project, and just need a small boost.
Kinhin, is a slow, mindful form of walking meditation. As a meditative activity, it brings different benefits. As a form of mindfulness, it enhances creativity in a different way, but it also gets you moving.
Tai chi walking is another mindful form of walking. You walk slowly, shifting your weight from one foot to the other. Whether or not you do tai chi, it is easy to learn, and is great in small spaces.
Making the most of walking
Some people like to listen to music when they walk, others want to hear the world around them. If you're in a city, it may be beneficial to have noise-cancelling headphones and listen to some sort of music, your favorite podcast, or an audiobook. If you're in nature, it's good to listen to your surroundings: the birds, the rustle of the wind in trees, and all the other sounds of nature. These sounds, on their own, are relaxing.
If you're walking to try to work out something in your writing, bring something along to take notes. You may want to use a small notebook and pen, or you can use your phone, or a dictaphone, to record your thoughts. Nothing is more frustrating than walking, discovering a great plot twist, then forgetting it when you get back to your desk.
So get out and walk. And if you can’t get outside, find a way to walk inside. It's good for your health, and good for your writing.
Kirk McElhearn is a writer, podcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the podcast Write Now with Scrivener.